A Boy

When my son was five, he made friends with a boy who was nine. We were neighbors. The boy lived in a one-bedroom apartment with his dad. The boy spent a lot of time with us. One day he showed up at noon and didn’t go home until eight. Not once in those hours did his father come and check on him. His father never asked for my number. As far as I know, he didn’t even know my name. But I took his son to the movies and bowling. We included him in our lives and my son very much saw him as a very best friend.

Then the father decided to move to another apartment on the other side of the neighborhood. Sometimes the boy still came over, but the age difference was becoming more of an issue (for me, I should say), and he lived too far away to walk. But my son asked about the boy and looked forward to those random moments when we would show up at our door.

The boy was always careful around our son. I would listen to them when they thought I couldn’t hear. I’d hear him tell my son not to do certain things because he would get hurt. And he happily played games a five or six year old loved, even if it perhaps not what a nine or ten year old would choose.

When his father wanted him to come home, he would stand far at the end of the sidewalk in front of our building and shout.

We haven’t seen this boy for a while now. He goes to the junior high and is not likely to come over to play with a second grader. My son still asks about him though.

Tonight, after eight, a tiny knock came on our door. I don’t even hear it, but my husband opens the door to find this boy standing there. It is 40 degrees out and the boy doesn’t have a coat. He wears a tee shirt, and he asks to use our phone. Our son is in the other room and doesn’t even know the boy is there.

The boy calls his father. I hear the man’s voice over the phone but can’t be sure what is said. The boy thanks us and heads to the door. “Can I give you a ride somewhere?” I ask. He shakes his head and leaves as quickly as he can.

I sit on the sofa thinking about the dark and the cold and the boy who, if I remember right, has a birthday right around now and he should be turning 12. I get my keys, my husband gives me a coat that the boy can have and I rush outside, thinking I’ll drive around the neighborhood and try to find the boy.

He is sitting on our front steps, shivering and crying. “What’s wrong?” No answer. “Can I call someone for you?” No answer. “Can I take you somewhere? I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.” No answer. “Will you wear this jacket, please?” He shakes his head. “Do you have a friend to call?” He shakes his head. “A cousin?” I search for bits of his life I remembered. His mother lives in San Antonio. “Can I call your mother?” He shakes his head.

“Can you go home?” I ask.
“I don’t want to go home,” he says.
“Is your father there?”
“Where do you go when you have a problem?”
My husband thinks I’m in my car driving through the neighborhood, so he is startled when he comes outside with the dogs, but he leaves us alone. My son comes out a moment later, looking for his dad, and he sees the boy. He can tell something is wrong. “Look who it is,” I say.

My son says hello. I can see he wants to say something but doesn’t know what to say. “You’re supposed to be in bed,” I say. “I’ll keep C– company. You need to get inside where it is warm.”

My sons says bye to his friend and goes back inside. My husband takes the dogs in.
“You can’t stay out here all night,” I say. He nods.
“Please take the jacket.” He shakes his head.
“I like you, C–. I want to help.” He doesn’t say anything. He shivers so much.
I could call the police, but he might take off if I do. Child services might come…and then what? I could call his father…which might get him into more trouble. I can’t let him stay the night on his own.

We sit together. “I’m not going to leave you out here by yourself,” I say.
He says and does nothing.

A car comes slowly through the parking lot. It is the father and someone else. The someone else gets out of the car and calls for the boy. He gets up from the step and walks away. He doesn’t say anything to me. My husband is outside now too. We wait. The father gets out of the car, and he walks over to me. “I’m sorry if he’s bothered you,” he says.

“He’s no bother,” I say.

“He’s been hard to handle. Detentions at school. All kinds of trouble. We just had a,” the father doesn’t really look at me, and he shrugs. He shakes his head. “I don’t know. We’ve just been getting into it and we had a thing…I’m sorry if he bothered you.”

“It’s okay. I like him. I really do.”

“I know you do,” he says.

“And I’m happy to help.”

“Thank you,” he says.

I wonder if the boy will get into trouble for involving us. I wonder what the truth is, and why I can’t think of one thing to say or do that would make a difference.

15 thoughts on “A Boy

  1. How do you know you haven’t made a difference? Sometimes the difference is years in the making. And certainly, you can’t “fix” his life for him, that’s not your right, as it were. But you were there when he knocked on the door. You sat with him and offered what help you could. He won’t forget. You have already made enough of a difference in his life that he came to your home when he felt he had nowhere else to go. Perhaps one day he will become a counselor, or a writer, and he will write about the lady who offered him a coat at Christmas-time.

    I will certainly keep him in my prayers. Sounds like he could use some.

  2. Oh Marta. I don’t think there’s any feeling worse than seeing a friend clearly in some undefined crisis, and not being able to help them ’cause you can’t get through a shell they’ve put around themselves.

    Do you know someone who works at the junior HS he goes to? If he’s been getting detention regularly then someone will know about him. (And from the way you describe him, CARE about him, too. And want to help him.) I wonder if he ever talked to your kiddo about anything going on at his home. Of course, your son was pretty young then so it might have been over his head.

    I must say that the thing with his dad struck me as strange — especially the stand-at-the-end-of-the-block-and-yell-for-him thing he’d do (instead of just coming to your door) when C— was with your family late. Just… strange.

    1. As a parent, I thought many things this father did were strange. Unfortunately, I’m not at all sure which school he goes to. I learned a couple months ago that he wasn’t going to the school in the neighborhood.

      I don’t think this young fellow ever talked to my son about his problems, but I am at least glad he knocked on our door. That must mean something. Sad when someone so young already has those walls up.

  3. You did everything you could. Maybe the boy will ask for your help in the future.

    Childhood can be so hard – being dependent on someone, having to keep their secrets. I don’t think I have to tell you that.

  4. How frustrating! I hope that kid survives his circumstances. I guess hoping is about all you can do, until he tells you what’s going on, but thank God he knows you’re there caring about him.

  5. Sarah

    I agree about contacting the school. Being a loving and accepting friend is wonderful, but I’d also back that up with notifying someone in authority. Something is definitely very wrong.

    1. I don’t know who in authority would help more than harm. And I don’t know where he lives now or where he goes to school. If I have a chance to see him again, I’ll think to find out more.

  6. Christy

    Oh, Marta! I am confident that you have helped this boy more than you can imagine! Just the fact that you allowed him to spend time with your family and showed him love is worth so much! You really may be the only person who has ever shown him that he is worth something!! I hope you get a chance to see him again. Thanks for sharing this story!!

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